A Look at Grace

“Let your speech always be with grace” (Col 4:6)

The Bible teaches us about the concept of grace. The Hebrew noun חֵן chen appears 69 times and is commonly translated as favor (Gen 19:19; 32:5; 33:8; 34:11; 47:25; Ex 33:12-17). Mounce states, “grace is the moral quality of kindness, displaying a favorable disposition.”[1] The Hebrew verb חָנָן chanan is used 56 times and is commonly translated gracious (Gen 43:29; Ex 22:27; 33:19; 34:6). Yamauchi states, “The verb ḥānan depicts a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.”[2] God’s loyal or faithful love, חֶסֶד chesed, is used in connection with His demonstrations of grace (Psa 51:1-3). A loving heart tends toward gracious acts.

grace-rock-blueThe Greek word χάρις charis appears 155 times in the New Testament and most commonly refers to the unmerited favor that one person shows toward an underserving other. It is noteworthy that Paul uses the word 130 times. According to BDAG, grace refers to “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[3] Chafer adds, “Grace means pure un-recompensed kindness and favor. What is done in grace is done graciously. From this exact meaning there can be no departure; otherwise, grace ceases to be grace.”[4] The word χάρις charis is also used to express thanks (1 Cor 15:57; 2 Cor 9:15), or attractiveness (Luke 4:22; Col 4:6). The greatest expression of grace is observed in the love God shows toward underserving sinners for whom He sent His Son to die in their place so they might have eternal life in Christ (John 3:16-19; Rom 5:6-10). Thank God for His wonderful and matchless grace to us!

God is Gracious

Jesus Healing SickThe Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).

Grace is Undeserved

The Gospel of GraceGrace is given to the helpless and undeserving (e.g., Barabbas; Matt 27:15-26; cf. Rom 5:6-8), and it cannot exist where there is the slightest notion that people can save themselves, or think they deserve God’s blessing. Grace is all that God is free to do for people based on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. I think it was Stott who described grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Man-made religion rejects grace and seeks to earn God’s approval through works of the flesh. In grace, God does all the work and unworthy sinners receive all the blessing (Eph 3:7). In man-made religion, people do all the work, and it is falsely supposed that God is pleased with their efforts (Luke 18:9-14). According to Scripture, we are totally unable to save ourselves or others, for “No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever” (Psa 49:7-8). Concerning salvation, grace and works are opposite to each other; for “to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due” (Rom 4:4). But if salvation “is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11:6). Biblically, we are helpless and ungodly (Rom 5:6), sinners (Rom 5:8), enemies of God (Rom 5:10), and “dead in our transgressions” (Eph 2:5). Furthermore, our own righteousness has no saving value in God’s sight (Isa 64:6; Rom 8:3-4; 10:3-4; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 2:11; 3:5-7). As having any saving merit, Paul regarded his own righteous efforts as filthy dung (Phil 3:8).[5] But God, because of His great mercy and love (Eph 2:4), sent His Son into the world to die in our place and bear the punishment for our sins on the cross (Rom 5:8). Peter wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). And John stated, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God’s Grace Leads to Righteous Living

Grace is boundless, and though it covers all our sins (Rom 5:20-21), it does not mean the Christian is free to sin. To draw such a conclusion fails to understand what the Bible teaches about grace, and more importantly about the righteous character of God. Grace never gives believers a license to sin (Rom 6:1-2), but rather instructs us to deny ungodliness, to live righteously, and to look forward to the return of Christ Jesus who is our blessed hope (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Jude 1:4). Grace teaches us to produce good works which God has previously prepared for us (Eph 2:8-10; Tit 3:5-8). As a system of law, the Christian is under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2) and not the Law of Moses (Rom 6:14; 7:6; Gal 5:1-4). As Christians, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), who instructs (John 14:26), and strengthens us to do God’s will (1 Th 4:7-8; Jude 1:20-21). We are directed to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), to walk by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:16), and to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). Divine commands are compatible with grace, so long as they do not become a substitute for it.

Common Grace and Special Grace

Common grace refers to the undeserved kindness or goodness God extends to everyone, regardless of whether they are righteous or unrighteous, good or evil. God’s common grace is seen in His providing for the necessities of life (i.e., sun, rain, air, food, water, clothing, etc.). This grace depends totally on God and not the attitude or actions of others. Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:44-45). Paul said, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways [in rebellion]; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Here, God’s grace is most obvious, in that He provides the necessities of life and even blesses those who are unsaved and hostile toward Him. His love and open-handedness toward the undeserving springs completely out of the bounty of His own goodness. And this behavior is what God expects of His people, commanding us to love our enemies and pray for those persecute us. This is accomplished by faith and not feelings.

Special grace is that particular favor God shows to those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9). Christian theologians have recognized other categories of special grace, but our salvation is the most notable.[6] Paul states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace, as Paul wrote, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28). When we trust in Christ as Savior, accepting that His death, burial, and resurrection forever satisfied God’s righteous demands concerning our sin (1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2), then we receive forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and God’s gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). Furthermore, we are said to be “in Christ” (Rom 8:1; cf. 1 Cor 15:22), having been “rescued us from the domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). Once saved, God’s special blessings cannot be forfeited. However, though we are positionally righteous before the Lord, He directs us to surrender our lives to Him (Rom 12:1-2), to learn and live His Word (2 Tim 2:15; Col 3:16), to grow to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:15; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), and to live righteously as He directs (Tit 2:11-14). But our sanctification requires humility, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

Some Christians Refuse Grace to Others

grace_7One would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, those who are shown grace and mercy by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). God has not treated us as we deserve. In fact, He treats us much better than we deserve; but again, that’s grace. The Lord is a God who loves, forgives, and shows great compassion toward the undeserving and has done so toward us. Yet some believers refuse to give grace to others, who are themselves undeserving. Jonah, for example, was a prophet of God who became angry when the Lord showed grace to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites, and withheld judgment when they humbled themselves and repented of their sin (Jonah 3:1-10). Jonah became angry at God’s display of grace, saying, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The contradiction is that Jonah personally enjoyed God’s grace, but then selfishly wanted God to withhold it from others. I also think of the story Jesus told about a servant who owed a great debt, and when the man could not pay, he pleaded with his master, who felt compassion and graciously forgave his debt (Matt. 18:23-27). However, the man who had received forgiveness from his superior, later refused to forgive another man who owed him a very small amount (Matt. 18:28-30). The man who was shown grace refused to show grace to others, and the Lord called him “wicked” (Matt 18:32). I’ve often pondered why some, who rejoice in God’s grace, refuse to show grace to others? I think there are several reasons.

  1. Ignorance of God and His Word. Some believers fail to understand grace as a characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Prov 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10), and that He directs His people to be gracious and loving to others (Matt 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28; Col 4:6). Grace is not automatic in the Christian life. It must be learned and actively applied. As believers learn about God’s grace, they can then actively share it with others.
  2. A legalistic mindset. Legalism is the belief that one can earn God’s favor through religious practices and good works. This mindset prevents people from experiencing God’s grace because they don’t think they need it. Why would they? Their religious life and good works lead them to think they’ve earned God’s favor. But this has consequences in relationships with other people. If we earn God’s favor, then naturally we’ll only show favor to those we feel have earned it too.
  3. A judgmental spirit. It seems as though some people come out of the womb with a judge’s gavel in their hand. These stand in the place of God rendering judgment on others according to their own arbitrary standards and expectations. Often this judgmental spirit takes the form of gossip, maligning, and badmouthing others. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
  4. Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
  5. Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.

Bible With PenHow do we overcome these obstacles to grace? First, it starts with knowing what the Bible teaches about the gracious character of God. We cannot live what we do not know, and knowledge of God’s character and Word necessarily precedes living His will. We show grace only as we learn and experience it ourselves. Second, we must learn to see everyone from the biblical perspective, as undeserving of God’s grace and love. Then, with eyes open, we choose to love the unlovely and show them grace. We treat them better than they deserve. We seek God’s best in their lives. Third, learn to discipline the mind and the will daily to think and act in grace. As we encounter unpleasant people, or those who have hurt us (i.e., family, friends, co-workers, etc.), we can consciously extend grace to them by showing love, kindness and mercy. Fourth, be ready to be hurt. Showing grace can be very difficult because it places us in a vulnerable spot where we may be hurt, sometimes on an ongoing basis. By faith we’re okay with absorbing the pain others inflict, much like our Lord (1 Pet 2:21-24). We know God is with us, to shield and sustain us as we do His will (Psa 18:30; 55:22; Isa 41:10; Phil 4:6-7; Heb 4:16). Since we’ve tasted of the grace of God, let us also be gracious to others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Topics:

[1] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 937.

[2] Edwin Yamauchi, “694 חָנַן,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 302.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 4.

[5] Paul referred to his own righteous works as dung, which translates the Greek word σκύβαλον skubalon, which means fecal matter. It would appear that Paul used this word for its shock value, in order to contrast human righteousness as a mean of salvation with God’s gift of righteousness (Phil 3:9; cf., Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21).

[6] Biblically, there are other categories of special grace in addition to saving grace. First is prevenient grace, which refers to the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the one who will believe in Christ for salvation (John 16:8-9). Prevenient grace precedes saving grace. Second, provisional grace, which is the provision of God for His children so they might advance to maturity and fully live the spiritual life (Eph 1:3). Third, growing grace, which is the opportunity to learn and apply biblical truths and principles to the situations of life (2 Pet 3:18). Fourth, cleansing grace, which is the kindness God shows His erring children in forgiving their sin after salvation and restoring fellowship (1 John 1:9). Fifth, enabling grace, which is the provision of God that enables the believer to face adversity (2 Cor 12:9-10). Sixth, dying grace, which is the strength God gives His children as they face death (Psa 23:4). Seventh, the rule of grace, which means grace becomes the operating principle that governs our beliefs and behaviors (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Gal 5:4).

Living By Grace

     Each time I approach the biblical subject of grace I’m repeatedly uplifted by it, for God has shown me great grace. When I think of my life I’m reminded of Hannah’s prayer, where she says of God, “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and He set the world on them” (1 Sam. 2:8). I am that poor and needy one He has lifted. My life is full of blessing, and it is the Lord’s goodness toward me. I am in constant need of God’s grace, and He provides it.

     Grace is a characteristic of God. The Father is called “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10), the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29), and Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As Christians, when we approach God, we approach Him as One who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16); that is, One whose sovereign rulership is marked by grace. What a wonderful blessing.

     Though there are different nuances to the word grace (Heb. חֵן chen, Grk. χάρις charis), the most common understanding is that it refers to “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.”[1] The basic idea is that a gracious benefactor freely confers a blessing upon another without thought of merit or worthiness (Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 11:6; Eph. 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5-7; Heb. 4:16). The kindness here is by no means obligatory, but rather, finds its source in the goodness, abundance, and free-heartedness of the giver.

     The Bible distinguishes between common grace and special grace. Common grace is that goodness God shows to everyone without exception. The Lord Jesus spoke of the Father’s grace, saying, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Sinner and saint both enjoy the blessings of God’s grace in the everyday provisions that sustain life. Special grace is that expression of God wherein He provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who trust in Christ as their Savior (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Grace and works stand in opposition to each other; for if one can, in any sense, merit what is received, then it cannot be said to be of grace (Rom. 4:1-5; 11:6).

     As believers in Christ, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24; cf. Eph. 2:8-9), and once saved, “the grace of God” instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11-12). Grace should mark our words and actions toward others. Paul writes, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6), and Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10; cf. Eph. 4:7-11; Rom. 12:6; 2 Cor. 9:8). In all things, the believer is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). 

     be-graciousI want to be gracious like my heavenly Father is gracious. I want to extend grace to others. This includes believers, unbelievers, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and people in society. I want to be gracious because of who I am and not because of the other person. I want to love the unlovely. I want to help the needy. I want to be open-handed with the resources God has given to me. Will people abuse my kindness? Yes. I’ve learned to expect it, and I’m okay with it. In fact, I want to manifest grace to those who deserve it the least. Is there a possibility that others may mistake grace for weakness and fail to grasp what is being extended to them? Yes. I cannot help that. My being gracious must rest upon my relationship with God and what He provides, not upon the worthiness of others. 

     So what does grace look like? It means helping the needy and expecting nothing in return (Luke 14:12-14), showing godly love (1 Cor. 13:4-8a), forgiving those who don’t deserve it (Eph. 4:32), loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44), blessing those who persecute us (Rom. 12:14), never returning evil for evil (Rom. 12:17), not retaliating when others hurt us (Rom. 12:19; cf. 1 Pet. 2:23), using our freedoms to serve others (Gal. 5:13), and speaking words that edify (Eph. 4:29). This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a good starting place. I pray God will teach me how to live by grace.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

God’s Great Grace

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

     Grace (Grk. charis) is the underserved kindness or favor one person shows to another.  It is “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[1]  God was in no way forced to provide salvation for sinners, though He was motivated by His great love to do so (John 3:16).  For God, “being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5).

Speaking first of His mercy, it is defined as that compassion in God which moved Him to provide a Savior for the lost.  If He had been able to save even one soul on the basis of His sovereign mercy alone, He could have saved every person on that basis and the death of Christ would have been rendered unnecessary.  As for divine love, it is an emotion of infinite character, the motivating purpose back of all that God does in saving a soul.  But since God is holy and righteous too and the sinner’s sins are an offense to Him, He might perfectly desire to save a soul and still be utterly helpless to do so in the light of the claims which divine righteousness make against the sinner.  Not until those claims are met can God’s infinite love realize its desire.[2]

       God loves sinners, but He can only be gracious to them because His righteous demands against sin have forever been satisfied by the cross of Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8).  Theologically, it can be said that “grace is what God may be free to do and indeed what He does accordingly for the lost after Christ has died on behalf of them.”[3]  Because Christ has borne all sin and paid the penalty that was due to the sinner, God is now free to show infinite grace to the worst of sinners and offer them not only eternal salvation, but also bestow the greatest spiritual blessings of time and eternity (Eph. 1:3).  The wondrous cross of Christ has made it possible for the worst of sinners to be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

       We must be careful that we do not see God acting graciously toward sinners independently of the cross, for that would be dishonoring to Him and all He did for us through the death of His Son.  The perfect satisfaction of His righteous demands against sin had to occur before the display of His infinite grace toward sinners could be manifest.  For “since God is holy and righteous, and sin is a complete offense to Him, His love or mercy cannot operate in grace until there is provided a sufficient satisfaction for sin.”[4]  Christ’s death on the cross satisfied God’s righteous demands toward sin; therefore, grace can be shown towards sinners who do not deserve it.

       Having met the demands of God’s perfect righteousness for sin, the cross of Christ has opened the floodgates of God’s grace!  Because Christ paid our sin debt, we can come to God and receive the free gift of salvation apart from any human works.  Jesus Christ paid the price for my salvation in full.  He paid it all at the cross.  He bore every sin.  He was judged in my place and bore the wrath of God that belonged to me, and now I can receive the free gift of salvation because God is satisfied with His death.  There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation.

Grace is the limitless, unrestrained love of God for the lost, acting in full compliance with the exact and unchangeable demands of His own righteousness through the sacrificial death of Christ.[5]

       Concerning our salvation, Scripture declares, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  Salvation is always a gift.  If a person has to pay a price for something, it ceases to be a gift.  A gift means that someone else paid the price, and we receive it freely without cost.  Salvation is a free gift to us, from God, paid in full by Jesus Christ.  What a wonderful gift!

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 1079.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Kregel Publications, 1993), 178.

[3]  Ibid., 178.

[4] Merrill F. Unger, “Grace,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, Ill., Moody Press, 1988), 504.

[5] Lewis S. Chafer, Grace (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 22.